Friday, 24 January 2014

Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith

published 1892







MAY 7
    A big red-letter day; viz., the Lord Mayor’s reception. The whole house upset. I had to get dressed at half-past six, as Carrie wanted the room to herself. Mrs James had come up from Sutton to help Carrie; so I could not help thinking it unreasonable that she should require the entire attention of Sarah, the servant as well…


At nine o’clock Carrie swept into the room, looking like a queen. Never have I seen her look so lovely, so distinguished. She was wearing a satin dress of sky-blue – my favourite colour – and a piece of lace which Mrs James lent her, round the shoulders, to give a finish. I thought perhaps the dress was a little too long behind, and decidedly too short in front, but Mrs James said it was a la mode. Mrs James was most kind, and lent Carrie a fan of ivory with red feathers., the value of which, she said, was priceless, as the feathers belonged to the Kachu eagle – a bird now extinct. I preferred the little white fan which Carrie bought for three-and-six at Shoolbred’s, but both ladies sat on me at once
.

extra picture - blogfriend and costume expert Ken Nye suggested this one in the comments, below: short in the front, long behind


observations: Re-reading fictional diaries recently, for a blog entry and a piece for the Guardian books blog, this one came as a big pleasant surprise. I first read it when I was a lot younger, and then I was somewhat impatient with the humour, finding it heavy-handed, and disliking the snobbishness and pretentiousness that were being satirized. It all seemed horribly typical of Punch, the humour magazine where it first appeared.

But now I find it hilarious and clever, and the relations between Charles Pooter and his wife Carrie, and their son Lupin, are beautifully done. At the beginning of the book, Pooter explains that he sees plenty of memoirs by supposedly well-known people and feels he could do just as well himself. And in fact he and his creators have done exactly that – the diaries of Victorian worthies disappear, but as long as people find this funny: ‘I left the room with silent dignity, but caught my foot in the mat’ – well, that’s how long Diary of a Nobody will survive. The book is a lovely easy read, and very very funny.

On this day they are very happy to be going to the Mansion House for this prestigious event, but when they get there find that the local ironmonger is there too, devaluing their invitation – social events rarely go well for the Pooters. But it’s not as bad as the East Acton Volunteer Ball, where after asking the waiter for food and champagne for all his friends, Mr Pooter is shocked to find he has to pay for them. He had assumed they were included in the price of the ticket: 

'£3 0s 6d! I don’t think I was ever so surprised in my life.’
Champagne is always his downfall – Carrie’s version is that it does not agree with him…

The picture by Auguste Toulemouche is from the Athenaeum website


20 comments:

  1. In my luddish way, I'm going to try including a link to a fashion plate which is typical of the reception dresses worn right around 1890. As Mr. Pooter would suggest, a little long in the back, and much too short (measured from the bottom, I think) in the front.
    http://www.albion-prints.com/ekmps/shops/albionprint/images/french-fashion-print-c1890-folio.-superb-hand-colour-3548-16894-p.jpg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ken - I've added the picture to the entry above. It fits the description perfectly....

      Delete
  2. Isn't that a perfectly bizarre silhouette in the 1890 reception dress. Fascinating.
    I keep meaning to read Diary of a Nobody. Next time it churns up around here I will nab it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, 1980s power shoulders, hourglass figure, and very strange updo. Do read it Sara - I'm sure you will enjoy it. As I said, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I was just going to flick through as a re-read, but couldn't tear myself away.

      Delete
  3. Hmm.....sorry - if that picture is at all indicative of Carrie looking ever so lovely, you would have to feel for any siblings, perhaps less-blessed in the looks department. (I never said I wasn't shallow,)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looksist I think. Oh dear, Pooter himself is no oil painting - there is little prospect for the next generation, Lupin, and any children he may have....

      Delete
  4. Presumably Punch readers would chortle at her choice of pale blue satin and red feathers. But Charles thinks she looks lovely. Mr Pooter is infuriating and absurd – and decent and humane.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes - his and Carrie's affection for each other, despite their long-married exasperation, is done remarkably well, and is charming. And they really do sound like couples today, mutatis mutandis.

      Delete
  5. Moira - I do love those 'photos. The dresses are lovely but honestly, I can't help thinking how uncomfortable they must have been to wear. Those elaborate hairstyles, too - They must have taken ages to do. The story though sounds terrific, and there really is something about that sort of humour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the way she needed two people to help her get ready - she needs modern curling tongs! the story slides down a treat - such an easy read, so funny, and somehow touching, despite its satirical intent. As Lucy says above, these are good-hearted honest people.

      Delete
  6. Isn't it interesting when we retread a book years later and experience a different reaction. Proof of our perpetual evolution and the context around us, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, and do you know, in this case I think it is most definitely having children. The relation with the unsatisfactory Lupin looked quite different back in the day - now I can see the universality of it....

      Delete
  7. I would not have thought I would be interested in this but it does sound good. The thing that confuses me is that she seems very well dressed for a nobody, but then that shows what little I know of the time. That is not a period of history that I have read much about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think they were 'nobodies' but reasonably middle-class - they had servants for example, and he had a good job and she didn't have to work. But characters in books are allowed nice clothes! Lucy, above, suggests that to readers of the time her clothes might sound a bit low-rent. Anyway, a surprisingly enjoyable book I think.

      Delete
  8. TracyK - Charles Pooter is the Victorian equivalent of Hyacinth Bucket. Striving to step up a bit, and not fully understanding the attitudes and background they aspire to. And DoaN is the Victorian equivalent of the late 20th century soap...

    I read this last year for the first time, having had it on my list for ages. I agree - I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great description Sarah - it's hard to pin down the charms of this book, but you do a good job. And between us we can encourage everyone to read it!

      Delete
  9. I did purchase a copy of this (paperback) and am looking forward to reading it later this year. Lovely cover illustration and illustrations within the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great! Make sure you let us know how you get on with it.

      Delete
  10. I always love stopping by your blog.

    THANKS for sharing.


    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved February Edition. I am in the list as #29. My book entry is below.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

    If you get a chance, also stop by this giveaway: Guess Who This Baby Is

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by Elizabeth, and the feeling is mutual....

      Delete